Minnis Wants Web Shops Closed Before Referendum

Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis has criticized the government for proposing to close numbers houses temporarily if the gambling referendum passes, but not having the will to shut the sector down ahead of the vote.

In December, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe told The Nassau Guardian that web shops would close for 30 to 90 days, if Bahamians vote in favor of regulating them, to give the government time to bring the sector in line.

“What he is basically saying is they have the potential at this time to close them,” Minnis said. “If you have illegal entities going on now, I think the proper thing to do would be to have them close… and then they’re opened under the new formula that you’ve introduced.

“Suppose it takes a year; suppose it takes six months? Are you going to close them down during that particular time? The ideal thing is you cannot allow illegality to continue.”

Wilchcombe recently explained that completely shutting the sector down would not be a simple move, as the operations have valid business licenses and pay other forms of taxes.

“How do you shut them down? What do you do?” he asked. “Do you rescind their licenses or do you shut them down by arresting everybody? How do you do that?
“It’s sort of complicated and I believe that we have to be real in our country. We know it exists and that’s why having the referendum is so important.

“Now it’s about time that we do pull up our socks and show the world that we want to ensure it’s either regulated or doesn’t exist. And if it doesn’t exist legally then it ought not be operating.”

Wilchcombe also said he expects web shop employees to remain on the job during the proposed closure, to allow them time to become acclimated to any new modes of doing business that might occur in a legal environment.

But he said he has not had talks with web shop operators about this proposed period of closure.

“I’ve stayed a distance from the web shop operators during this particular time because I think it’s imperative again that we not seem to be working with them at a time when we are in the midst of a decision being made by the Bahamian people,” he said.

“So we don’t want to walk down that road now.” The referendum is set for January 28.

It will ask voters whether they support the regulation and taxation of web shops and if they are in favor of creating a national lottery.

Wilchcombe said it would take at least a year and more than $1 million to create a national lottery.

By Taneka Thompson
Guardian Senior Reporter